The artist behind the table waved me over. I shuffled in my Ghostbuster suit.
“Can I take your picture? I’ve got a guy on the other end of the phone who don’t believe you exist!”
Under the gorilla mask I smiled, and waved my Monkey paw.
I was there for the first Horror Realm, held in this very hotel. It was the year I was getting back into the convention scene and was early in my first big tour. The show was being heavily promoted by the It’s Alive Show (My favorite horror host show at the time) and I kicked off my Dawn of the Dead poster with a reunion there and the rest was history.
I was also there for the last Horror Realm, held in a different hotel, where I managed to plug a bunch of the holes in my Nightmare On Elm Street collection. It had been quite a few years in between, and I found myself remembering how much I enjoyed it and resolved to come back the next year.
Only there wasn’t a next year.
The promoters ran into some family problems, and real life had to come first. They ended up not being able to produce the show any longer and reluctantly retired. We thought, for good but last fall I took a peek at their website and noticed they finally managed to pull things together to bring the convention back and I was determined to be there.
As I pulled into the city limits, I noticed a car that merged in front of me. There was a Jason mask on One side of the trunk and I Michael mask on the other. It was Frankenstein monster on the bumper just below superman license plates from Ohio. I grinned and switched off the GPS, Figuring it would be a safe bet to just follow this guy the rest of the way. Once we pulled into the lot of the hotel, I discovered that he was actually from Lorain – the suburb that neighbors my own hometown near Cleveland. We chatted about Cinema Wasteland and then made our way in.
I was severely displeased to discover that Tiffany Shepis had cancelled. I understand cancelling because you’re sick, but the con didn’t post notifications on Facebook until 10 am, and by that time I was well on the road, my pre-departure website check irrelevant. There was a hand written sign posted inconspicuously behind the registration table. I didn’t notice it until I had scoured the vendors room twice searching for her. Nevertheless, she wasn’t the only one I was there to see. I made a beeline over to Kelly Marooney’s table to get her autograph on my Chopping Mall poster. I’m sad that she was overcharging and her price list was (unintentionally?) misleading about the gouging upcharge on photos, but it’s Chopping Mall and she’s the last one the con circuit from that movie available. It’s a terrible film that I have a strange obsession with, and I’m happy to have as many autographs on it as I do.
I moved along, doing some shopping. There was a huge box of loose He-Man figures for cheap. I grabbed several that still had their armor. Some still needed cleaning, but finding a Man At Arms with that breastplate and shoulder armor for four bucks is a big deal. I grabbed a functional Battle Armor Skeletor as well as a few others to hit that five for $20 mark. I found lip balm for Lydia and stickers for Maddie as well as a catnip Jason Mask for Sparky and loaded up on movie deals. Good shopping here and great vendors.
After hitting up the short film block it was time to get into costume. I’d brought out Tracy the Ghostbusting gorilla, just for fun. I don’t know if the Filmation Ghost Busters was just big in PA or what, but I think I got recognized in this outift more here than anywhere else ever! People got the joke, and several asked me about it – just to make sure, asking if the name tag was intentional and then showing delight when I confirmed that yes, I was doing THAT character. Its also just as fun as ever to watch people explain to their friends just what I am. This isn’t a big cosplay show (It’s not designed to be either) but there were a few notable costumes roaming – a fun Art the Clown from Terrifier and an amazing Chatterer from Hellraiser, not to mention a brief appearance by a Killer Klown. Over at the Happy Cloud Pictures booth, author Mike Watt grinned hysterically and fist bumped me. Actress Patricia Tallman (Night of the Living Dead, Star Trek and Babylon 5) ran over to me and had me video chat with someone on her phone….it was a good day to be a gorilla.
One of the things I really enjoy about Horror Realm is that they do some fun things, beyond just good panels and film screenings. They do a tattoo contest as well as a Match game where contestants get asked silly questions and see if their answers match a group of specially chosen panelists such as Ken from Cinema Wasteland and Amy Lynn Best from Happy Cloud Pictures.
It’s hard to tell, but while the crowd was respectable, it did seem a little thin. Because of the gap, Horror Realm has been knocked back into a rebuilding mode. The film selection suffered and wasn’t nearly as entertaining as previous years. Fears over the Corona virus may have played into it as well, but in any event you can see they are starting over. Still, Horror Realm is a name with some respect behind it and you can still see the heart they put into throwing this con. I still love it and I’m totally coming back, sooner I hope, rather than later.
Last year around this time, I was off braving the frozen wastes of Chicago to head out and meet Clive Barker. I’d sent my buddy, director Mark MacKaye out to scope out the resurrection of the Dark X Mas convention. This year, I had an embargo against larger conventions like Days of the Dead I decided to head out to see Dark X Mas for myself. I’d actually quite enjoyed it’s summer counterpart Dark X Fest, but when I pulled up the map on my GPS I had to double check… The show had moved from the eerie hotel in the middle of nowhere, set against barren fields full of ghostly children. This time around, GPS was taking me to Mentor, and a familiar address at that. Dark X Mas has moved to the Holiday Inn that has hosted Lake Effect Comicon for the last few years. It’s familiar digs, despite being configured a little differently.
Once inside, I made a beeline for Marc Price’s table. Price is best known as Michael J. Fox’s best friend Skippy on Family Ties, but Dark X Mas had him here to celebrate the film Trick or Treat, where he co-starred with Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons.That’s not why I wanted to meet him. I sidled up to his table and pulled out my convention bag.He spied the Troma autograph on it, and pointed excitedly.
“Lloyd Kauffman!, I know that name!” Price exclaimed with a huge grin. He turned and pointed to a particular poster on his banner. “He actually just bought up the rights to all the killer tomatoes movies!”
Out of my bag I pulled the same DVD cover and presented him with Killer Tomatoes Eat France.
“Like this?” I replied smiling. I reached into my bag again.
“I also brought you a friend to meet you.” and with those words I pulled out a plush fuzzy tomato. He picked up FT In wonderment, turning him over and over looking for a tag. I informed him that these were handmade, a little something I’ve been putting together since watching the films recently. He shook his head in astonishment
“Seriously? I thought it was official merch!” I commiserated with him that there was no official merchandise for Killer Tomatoes, and even when the cartoon had been on there was very little. Price was excited to talk about the movie, and shocked that anyone had even seen it much less enjoyed it. He taken the role against the wishes of his agent, who was sure it would be a disaster. Price on the other hand didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to travel to Paris on the film’s dime. He still finds it mildly annoying that like trick-or-treat, he’s not on the cover of the movie – but he remembers all the lines and even knows about some of the other sequels, informing me that George Clooney is in one of them – “the second!” I exclaimed happily.
I pulled out my other killer tomatoes, Zoltan and Fang, and we grabbed a passer-by to take a photo of us with the tomatoes. Price pointed it to them and ask the cameraman do you know what these are?” The guy with the camera grinned and bobbed his head referencing “Part four of the tomatoes trilogy!” Price was flabbergasted that he had another person was familiar with this movie.
He wouldn’t take any money for signing my DVD cover but was selling autographed photos from Trick or Treat and Family Ties with all proceeds going to the Michael J Fox foundation. I cheerfully grabbed a Trick or Treat photo and got a second autograph so I could make a donation. We shook hands but I wasn’t done with Skippy yet!
I moved down to the next table where Angela Jones was sitting. She is probably most notable for a small role that she had in Pulp Fiction, driving taxi for Bruce Willis and chatting about what it feels like to kill a person. It’s a bit role, sure, but it’s a bit role in Pulp Fiction! She was nice enough to sign my VHS box and when it came time to take a photo, there was no one around. She grabbed my phone and waved Price over, asking if he could take the photo for us. This is not something I don’t normally do, asking one of the guests to do grunt work like taking photos seems a little gauche, but she was the one doing the asking. Marc framed us in the picture, then shook his head, unsatisfied with the angle. He moved to the left a little bit… Looked again and shut the shoulders and moved a little bit more to the left. Just a little bit more, and finally found the perfect angle and proceeded to take a photograph of the back of my head. “What are you DOING???” Angela chided Marc as we all laughed together. It was great fun and exactly the kind of goofy stuff you want to see at one of these events.
Shawn South was the last person I was there to meet, he’s been a bit player on a variety of productions, but I was interested in getting him on my Walking Dead poster. They had him seated next to Tim Proctor, another Walking Dead alumni, and he was every bit as friendly and fun as Proctor has been in the past. I caught him well he was chatting up a couple people who had brought him record albums to sign. He told them the story of how Norman Reedus didn’t believe Shawn South was his real name.
“That’s got to be a stage name! Show me your license!” Norman had teased him until he whipped out his driver’s license to prove it. Norman would continue to tease him through production – Shawn SOUTH!” enlisting other cast to run the gag. He recalled one time he had seen Andrew Lincoln pulling out of the parking lot and waved to him “Shawn SOUTH!!!”
I mentioned to him that The Walking Dead was one of of those few TV shows that my wife would watch with me. I told him the story about me catching up the first few seasons when they were marathoning it before starting the series in earnest. It had just always been on and Amy had wandered by enough that she started to get invested, and now it’s more her show than mine.
“Man, I know exactly what you mean,” South replied. “There’s so many shows I watch just so I can hang out with my wife. I mean stuff I’d NEVER have watched on my own. There’s this one Netflix show, it’s from Canada – it’s called Heartland….” My jaw dropped.
“I know Heartland.” I said, trying to control my laughter. “My wife is OBSESSED with it!”
We chatted for a while about the series and out mutual amazement at how it’s lasted 13 years. Then South paused and looked around the ghoulish wares surrounding us and shook his head.
“This is the last place I thought I’d be talking with someone about Heartland!”
Because this was a little smaller of a show I decide it would be a nice place to to a soft premier of my new Skeksis costume from The Dark Crystal. I’d been tinkering with it for a few months and Dark X Mas gave me a deadline to finish the main body (though I’ll still be working on accessories over the winter). I lugged the large costume over to an empty space across from the registration table. The wristbands for the show had been red, which would blend in nicely with my robes, but that also may present a problem getting in and out. So I walked over to the lady at the registration table and presented my band and explained that it may be obscured soon. She chuckled and nodded, then proceed to watch in fascination as I suited up. Tim Proctor from the Walking Dead stopped dead in his tracks as he was passing by.
“I saw all the red and gold and the PVC pipes and though they were putting up a tree r something!” He said as he gawked at the bird-like monster. “This is totally not what I expected!”
I wandered in, stopping for photos with people and I heard a voice nearby warn “You better watch out! Thanksgiving is days away!”. Inside I found monsters to play with. Guests Chris Hahn and Marc Price both jumped in for photos with the skeksis as well as several of the Horror Hosts. One group of horror hosts interviewed me asking “If you can’t find any gelflings to eat then what do you do? Is there like a generic version?”
“Lawn Gnomes.” I replied. then headed over to take a picture with Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Anne Robinson from the original War of the Worlds saw me and gushed.
“I have no idea what you are, but it’s amazing!” She cackled. “Look at the armature on the hands! The fingers even move!”
I had to run outside to grab something from my car. On the way out the gentleman from the Horror Hotel convention stopped me to tell me about thier show. “If you want to come out this year, you’ve got a ticket. I’d bet with all the indie filmmakers there, someone might even want to use that suit in a production!” I thanked him and let him know that Horror Hotel is one of those shows that’s been on my radar, but always seemed to conflict with someone else, but that I’d try to make it next year. I unintentionally freaked out some people trying to park in the hotel lot and retrieved my phone from the car, while sneaking some hydration. On the way back in I ran into Lisa Wilcox (from Nightmare on Elm Street 4&5) taking a smoke break and assured her I’d be in for her panel soon. She grinned. I’d see a dark elf out there later – not quite a gelfling, but close enough!
I do love hitting panels at these events. I managed to sit through Angela Jones talk as well as the Walking Dead panel in my street clothes, but had to sneak in the back for Marc Price and Lisa Wilcox due to the bulky costume. Tim Proctor and Shawn SOUTH moderated thier own panel, just having a talk between themselves and the audience, but apparently no one had been scheduled to do Jones or Wilcox. Joe Ostrica from Retro Invasion Weekend jumped in to save the day acting as impromptu moderator and asking excellent questions on the fly. Much respect to him for doing that.
If I have a complaint about Dark X Mas it’s the lack of organization. Not having moderators and kind of failing t keep the panels on time or on track shows a lack of planning and foresight. The panels kind of just lasted as long as they lasted. Maybe an hour for one. Maybe twenty minuets for another (and they NEED strong programming with the dealers room being on the small side). They advertised a costume contest, but no one knew where they were going to hold it or even who the judges would be. At the last moment they decided to hold it near the entrance of the dealers room and asked the horrors hosts to judge. In the future, I’d like to see a bit more planning, but I DO see a future for this show. It’s a friendly show with a fun atmosphere and I honestly had a better time here than I did at Days of the Dead last year. I’m definitely coming back to Dark X Mas in 2020.
So here’s the thing, I really want Retro Invasion to succeed. I love the idea behind it, the philosophy and more importantly, I love that it’s practically in my backyard. It’s one exit down from my office and the easiest drive I’ve ever had to a convention.
That’s one heck of a preface isn’t it?
When I entered the hotel this year I was shocked. Remember how last time The convention space was so packed with the tables that you couldn’t even walk between them? This time around things went the opposite direction… The room was still under blocked that I literally walked in looked around and walked out and asked if there was a second vendor‘s room because this One was so empty… It looked like less than 20 tables, including the guests scared of around a very large room… I’m surprised, because this room really would only take about 10 or 15 minutes to walk through and yet there wasn’t an enormous amount of programming going on either. To put it simply, there simply wasn’t a whole lot to do. Add that to the fact that they were once again going up against a mammoth convention competitor happening in the same market – I have absolutely no doubt that Akron Comicon was siphoning away potential attendees.
Being familiar with the layout from last time I managed to find my way upstairs to the movie room in time for a screening of Night of the Creeps. I’m pleased to see that they’ve marked the rooms this time so it’s a little clearer that these spaces are being used for convention functions. However, that didn’t stop them from having confused patrons and I found myself giving directions and pointing people to the correct rooms on a surprising number of occasions.
I don’t know if the screening for the movie was late or if somebody had simply misestimated the running time, but the film was just getting into the third act when it was time for the Night of the Creeps panel. This overlap is a real drag, because you had to choose between watching the movie and listening to the actors – something that would’ve been complimentary to each other if they’ve been scheduled back to back instead of one cutting the other off. I slipped out of the screening about six minutes early to make it to the panel room.
It was empty.
The lights in the room were dimmed, and I was confused – I checked the schedule and the panel was indeed scheduled to start in the next five minutes but no one, not even the moderators, had arrived yet. I decided to make a quick pit stop in the bathroom to kill some time and started heading back to the movie room when I bumped into a couple of young women in spooky clothing and bright hair. They asked me where the panel room was and I showed them, only to discover that these were the moderators and that they were arriving mere moments before the talk was scheduled to start. I probably could’ve caught an additional 10 minutes of my movie.
Jill Whitlow has a very convention friendly personality, she is polite and likes to see her friends but it’s still very much a convention kind of persona. Jason Lively on the other hand is completely cracked. He’s got very much a surfer dude bro personality, and is fun and engaging. He was a delight to hang out with, and while I was waiting in Whitlow’s line to have her sign my Night of the Creeps poster he kept getting bored at his table and running over to me to show me pictures from last time he was at a con. We chatted about Spooky Empire and Chiller and Jean Claude Van Damme movies. It was so much fun. He occasionally check in with Jill and play with her as well, Lively is very hyperactive, especially for somebody who had had as many beers as he’d already had that evening! The stars of Night of the Creeps are both charging $30 for an autograph with an extra $10 up charge if you wanted a photograph with them. I really hate this sort of pricing, and ended up only getting the autographs. After all, the only person from that film who still looks the same as they did back then is Tom Atkins (and I already have a photo with him)! The guys from The Warriors were just flat out charging $40. It’s kind of a drag and really pushing me away from collecting autographs. There was a time when I would’ve grabbed something from everybody in that room, but not with what they’re charging these days.
The panel was good, and I enjoyed what little I get to see of Night of the Creeps, but overall, Retro just doesn’t have enough to do. The convention really can’t keep you occupied for more than a couple of hours and I feel bad for the dude that was in front of me in line who had driven down from Michigan just for this event. This is Retro’s second try at getting the convention formula right and I don’t think they’ve done that yet. It’s my hope that they’ll still give it one more try and get it right, but at this point the goodwill and patience of the con community has got to be fading fast and I’m genuinely not sure if I’ll be back. Guess we’ll wait and see what happens!
I heard nothing but good things about last winter’s Dark X-Mas. This combined with the stellar gust list they were boasting made it a no-brainer to hit Dark X-Fest this summer. With admission at $15 ($13 if you pre-ordered), the only thing to worry about was getting out there. Hudson is a good drive from me, but it ended up being a shorter ride than I expected, and one hour beats the two and and a half to five hour drives I’ve been known to embark on when I hit out of state shows. Still, the hotel was out in the middle of nowhere and I almost drove past it thinking “This can’t be the place”. Seriously, the desolate and solitary hotel looks like something straight up out of a horror movie. You expect to see bodies in the dumpsters out back and creepy semi-transparent children wandering around the lonely stretches of road outside. I parked in the front, right by the sign (Which said nothing about the convention being at the hotel….), near the entrance I had driven in from. This was not the correct entrance. There was another lobby in the BACK of the hotel that would lead to the convention area. I’d end up moving my car later once I’d gotten my bearings.
A pre-ordered pass allowed you to get into the show a half hour early. If you were counting on that however, you were out of luck. The doors were open, but half the vendors and most of the guests weren’t there. The entire show started about a half hour behind it’s posted schedule and that’s a really bad way to kick off the day. I wasn’t pleased. After the poor organization at the last two shows I’d been to this year, I really wasn’t in the mood for more. It would cause them to run a half hour late for most of the day and eventually jettison the Sleepaway Camp panel altogether to catch up (Monster Bash usually runs late like this as well, but that’s because events run long, not because they start late).
The vendor’s room itself was well planned and flowed., set up into two distinct segments. An electric chair was visible as you wandered in and if you dared to sit down in it the chair would light up and vibrate with a lout buzzing. I found a group of guest in the back but was confused – I could swear there were more. I exited the dealer’s room in search of the movie room and panel room. There was an alcove that opened up past the inflatable Pennywise clown. Before a long hallway, there were doors to the “Chainsaw Room”. All the guests from TCM as well as some makeup guests were there.
Down the hall and guarded by a giant Stay Puft marshmallow man, one room was set aside for movies, and another, with chairs and tables served as the panel room. It was like a small classroom from college, with each row elevated above the other. The guest would sit at the bottom and talk. The room filled up fast, with the tables actually limiting how many people could watch a panel. Fortunately, the attendance was low enough to mostly accommodate the setting, and only a few people ended up sitting on the floor to listen to gusts talk about their work.
Autographs were generally $20-$30, and most people weren’t upcharging for photos. All of this was a nice change from the gouging that’s been pervading the con scene lately. Makeup artist Alan Tuske wouldn’t take any money for autographs (“I’m just here to hang out with the fans!”) and Walking Dead zombie Dusty Horne would only take five dollars if you brought your own piece, then he’d insist on taking photos (“Lets do one normal, and then one scary one!”). Even Alyssa Levine, Zelda from the new Pet Semetary film, was only charging $20 (I’m seeing WAY to many new actors asking for twice that).
Felissa Rose’s line was halfway down the length of the vendors room early in the day. I figured I’d bide my time and by the time I finally got around to her, the line was gone and she was chatting with Paul T. Taylor (The newest Pinhead from Hellraiser Judgement) from the table next to her. As I approached they greeted me and included me in the conversation.
“…and a lot of times, it’s like you get just a side eye,” Felissa was saying.
“Well, that’s the thing,” Paul replied. “One eye is safe. It’s casual, but two eyes is intimate. Looking someone into both of their eyes creates a connection.” He mimed looking at her with one eye, and then gave her both. She turned to me and looked into both my eyes. I almost immediately felt uncomfortable, but suppressed an urge to turn. Paul was right. This was more intimate, and I hadn’t even realized it.
“That’s exactly it,” Paul explained. “We don’t even realize we’re doing it.” Felissa nodded as Paul pulled out his phone. “Especially since we’re always walking around like this -” he then stared with both eyes at the screen. Felissa laughed and shook.
“Wow,” she said.
“I know,” Paul said with some disbelief. “That was a hell of a pep talk…”
“That was totally better than an energy drink!” Felissa continued to laugh as she greeted me in earnest. I unrolled my Victor Crowley poster. The last time I’d spoken with Felissa it had been right after I went to see the movie during Adam Green’s tour. When we’d chatted about it she was able to tell her assistant about how he’d done it in secret. “It was like Finally! I’d been dying to tell someone and she is one of my best friends and I was about to burst!”. I’d just recently re-watched it in preparation for the con. I still think. it’s the best in all the Hatchet series, and Felissa is the best thing about it, something I told her. Seriously, I want to see more of that character from her.
“Oh my God, when Adam told me what I had to do with her I was just like I can’t!” It really is a horrible character and brilliantly broad comedy. I slipped her the cash fot the autograph and after she handed me change, she stopped me.
“Hang on, I really want to sign something TO you. Grab a photo from the table.” I did and she signed it to me, then insisted on taking photos with me. She hugged me and and told me to come out for karaoke later. I mentioned that if I did, it would be with a different face (and a Jason puppet) She screamed in delight and promised to watch for me. I love Felissa. She’s always one of my favorite guests.
Paul T. Taylor is no slouch either. He gets a lot of hate from certain parts of the Hellraiser fan base who really believe only Doug Bradley can be Pinhead. I’m not one of those people though I’ll readily admit I prefer Doug. So does Paul for that matter.
Paul is fun to talk to – he’s a real fan who’s steeped in the lore, from the movies to the comics (as far as talking about how much he’d love to see Kirsty as Pinhead, the way the Boom series had done). It was really illuminating to talk to him about how he approached the character as well as how the movie had been reshot at the close of filming. The original ending was actually completely different, and made way more sense than what actually made it to film. I did a re-watch of Judgment when I got home with a whole new appreciation for the film.
One of the nice things about the recent horror cons popping up in Ohio is the familiar faces. With more in the immediate area, I’m far more likely to have friends there to hang out with. I spied Jason and Tina unloading their car as I moved from the front of the hotel to the back where the entrance was. He greeted me and let me know Beetlejuice would be down later. Inside, I rounded a corner and comletely unexpectedly ran into Jen and Mark, in a group with Jennifer and Chris. I haven’t seen these guys in a while and it was good to be able to hang out for a while. Sarah was set up at a vendor’s table and Steve Eggs caught up with me just after I gored up. Randy was there with teh Retro invasion and Lily absolutely need a photo with me. Mark showed up with his wife Erin and the Black Leaf Coven decked out in thier creepy finest. It was cool to actually be able to see Cliff in his new burlap costume. He’d been showing me photos at the screening of Annabelle Comes Home, but in person is a whole different experience.
Mark caught me as I was popping outside and between drags of a cigarette asked when I was getting made up.
“Right now!,” I exclaimed, heading to my car to make the transformation into Freddy Kruger. Freddy wasn’t a capricious choice, I had actually run another poll during the week to see what people wanted to see creeping around Dark X-Fest. It was a much closer result than the previous one. Uncle Frank took an early lead, but ultimately Freddy prevailed.
I actually went into makeup early, because the day was hot. At 92 degrees outside, I was worried about how my Freddy makeup was holding up in the hot car. Even with the windows down, the temperature is enough to melt glue and dry latex. I had my appliance spread out around my had like a dummy head, keeping it streched and preventing pieces from sticking together. Still, there was some separation by the nose. No biggie. I’d planned on doing patchups anyhow. When the photos came back from Free Comic Book Day, I noticed that the beard by the corner of my mouth hadn’t been entirely covered by the chin and latex. I’d resolved to fix that with this application. I flattened my facial hair with beeswax and applied the adhesives. Between repairs, application and coloring with makeup and blood gel, the entire process only took a satisfying forty minuets. I’d be done in time for the Hellraiser panel. There had been paint leftover from fixing up Mr. Freeze for Akron Canton Comic Con last week, so I had used some on my glove to help make the blades look more metal than plastic. I had brought the ripped sweater that opened to reveal Freddy’s chest of souls. To push the absurdity just a touch further I’d be carrying a large puppet Jason with me. He’d actually been built a couple of years prior with this very idea in mind, but it happened to take me this long to break out Freddy again.
I had decided to go hard with the costume this time around since the show was sponsoring a costume contest. While this isn’t exactly as common in the horror convention scene as it is with comicons, it does seem to be filtering in slowly. A lot of haunters love these kind of shows and are eager for the opportunity to strut thier stuff. With only one winner in the adult and kids categories though, I wasn’t expecting to nab a win, but wanted to make a good showing. To my delight, the trophy went to Mark’s Black Leaf Coven. I love it when good things happen to my friends. But even better was who won the kids/teen division. The previous week I had gushed over a killer Ronald McDonald at Akron Canton Comic Con. It was my absolute favorite costume that day and I was disappointing she didn’t win any awards there. She won the kids/teen division at Dark X-Fast and it absolutely made my day (especially beating out that Michael Myers as a furry…..don’t ask).
As the day was winding down I had finally discovered where the show had been hiding Alan Tuskes (in the back corner of the Chainsaw room, past the vendors). I nipped out to the car and grabbed my folder of Items to be signed. As I was coming in I was greeted by a dude with half his face gone. he was hanging out with a reasonable facimile of Glen from Nightmare on Elm Street who both wanted to chat and take photos. We ran over to where the pro photo ops had been – they were done now so we borrowed thier backdrop to take our own pictures. Freddy fought the baseball bat and gored Glen as amused passerbys watched.
We talked a little about our outfits and upcoming plans. The dude wanted to get a Brain Damage costume going with an articulate Elmier. I mentioned that I loved doing suits were things ride on the shoulder and described how I had gotten Baby Groot and my Borg Tribble to sit on my shoulder using magnets. His eyes went wide.
“I never thought of mounting him with magnets! Dude, this is what I love about cons and talking to other cosplayers. The way other people figure out how to do things a way you’d never come up with yourself!”
Finally I was making my way over to Tuskes. I actually caught him on the way over to the dealers room (which I feel bad about), but he was excited to talk – he’d been watching my exchange with the other guys. He poked my chest of souls with an index finger.
“Is that…?” he inquired knowingly. I nodded in acknowledgement. “Great stuff. That expanding foam stuff for cracks and insulation.” He loved it and waved me to follow him over to his corner. Tuskes looked over my collection of pictures appreciatively. As he came to the Dusk Till Dawn 8×10, he asked if I’d ever heard the story of how the film got made. I admitted I haden’t and he proceeded to spin the yarn about Tarintino’s early days at the video store and how the script originally came to him before he really hit. After True Romance and Resivoir Dogs, the studio were asking if he had anything more. Out of his back pocket came Dusk Till Dawn, but he couldn’t direct it. I’m sure this is a story most peole have heard, but it’s exactly what I love about these kind of shows, hearing the stories of the industry straight from the mouths of those who were there.
I found myself so busy during the show that I only made it to about half of one film. I should have spent more time in that movie room. It was about ten degrees cooler than the rest of the convention space. Still, it was worth it. I caught both the Hellraiser panel and the Sean Whalen’s talk. I had stuck around so I could see the Sleepaway camp panel next (which never happened) and found my self captivated by his stories – and the image of homer Simpson in a moo-moo on his shirt.
I probably ended up staying later than I intended to, but that’s the sign of a good show.despite the bad start, I really came away from Dark X-Fest feeling like I’d gotten a real convention experience and had a great time. I’m really digging this show and hope to make it out to the Dark X-Mas show later this year.
“I’m so glad to know I’m in the right place,” the guy told me as he got out of his car. I bobbed my head up and down in the monkey costume and was greeted by a young woman at the entrance to the hotel.
“I have no idea who you are,” the girl told me, “but I love you.”
Tracy the Ape was feeling very welcome here at retro invasion
Retro invasion weekend is a small convention in its first year in Westlake, one of the shortest drives from my house ever – a mere 20 minutes on the freeway, closer than my office commute actually. They also had the curious distinction of being held in the same hotel where I attended my first Star Trek convention, so it was good vibes all around.
I really dig the philosophy here, Retro Invasion was holding a reunion for the film Just One of the Guys, as well as attempting to hold a Sleepaway Camp reunion. Going for weird little films that were not necessarily mainstream horror but still running with the horror vibe really makes for an interesting convention…
Because it’s their first year, one can understand that there’s going to be some problems… A number of their issues were not their fault, but then again there were also plenty of problems that were. Let’s start with the stuff that wasn’t their fault
Retro Invasion had been plagued with unfortunate cancellations. The first guest to bow out was Courtney Gains who played one of the murderous children in Children of the Corn. His dropping out had been announced months earlier so while it was disappointing, it was expected. However it also appears that Felissa Rose and Kathrine Kamhi cancelled quite late in the game, and this was not adequately advertised. I only knew because I’ve made a habit to repeatedly check convention websites just before the show (Because of what happened way back in 2012 with North Coast Comic Con). I saw more than a few people wandering around in Camp Arawak shirts still expecting the Sleepaway Camp reunion that was no longer going to happen. It also will have seriously cut into the convention’s income as they were offering a special Sleepaway Camp photo op in costume – it was actually reasonably priced and I was actually considering taking advantage of it (and we all know I NEVER do these things).
In any event, the guest cancellations had to have affected attendance. Another factor was Colossalcon happening the same weekend. While there is not a ton of crossover there, I can imagine it weakened the support a bit. None of these things are the shows fault, however there were serious organization problems that really showed
The dealers room was small and cramped. One vendor, upon seeing how tight the room was, asked the promoter if you could just set up his booth in the hallway instead, creating an entire little alcove near the registration desk for his wares. The room itself was divided into three aisles, but you could only access the middle aisle by going behind the tables on the end caps and slipping between that and the tables on the outer aisle… Someone had marked the path with bright pink duck tape arrows on the carpet – nevertheless it was difficult enough to get through that the vendors in the middle aisle were really feeling shafted… And wern’t shy about expressing their displeasure. To get a better feel for the place, check out Neon Trash’s video review (My monkey ghostbuster actually opens the video)
Panels and films were held in a completely different part of the hotel – a problem the late and lamented Shinbokucon used to have. Motor City Nightmares manages to make this work, with photo ops and one of their two movie rooms occurring on a different floor, however the second movie room on that floor only shows skullhouse pictures – their own work. For them, it’s overflow rather than main attraction. With Retro Invasion, the movie room and the panel room were both on the third floor, over in the other side of the hotel. This made for a lot of walking back and forth, and neiter room was adequately marked. After some walking, I found the panel room because the door was open, but I had to ask two different people to find the movie room. It would’ve helped have had these two locations marked with large “Retro Invasion” signs as well as schedules posted outside those doors.
Still, I can’t complain. The film selections were fun and the panels were well done – by the numbers, but on the other hand I had no idea how much fun it would be to watch Danny Hicks and Robert Kurtzman bounce off each other. Retro Invasion offered good programming, but it’s way too hard to figure out where that programming is actually LOCATED.
Overall, the convention was very lightly attended, which will make it difficult for them to secure vendor’s for thier next show. At one point, a panel was announced over the loudspeaker. One of the vendor’s voices rang out “And you’ll have NO PROBLEM finding a seat!”. Around noon, a lot of the vendors in the small room began tearing down and giving up for the day – that’s never a good sign.
I really did enjoy my time at Retro Invasion, though I think the $30 ticket price is a little high for what they offer. I would however, really like to see them succeed – I seriously dig having a horror convention so close to home and like the quirky philosophy that they seem to bring to their show. They’ve scheduled a second go around later this year – on Nov 1-3. Nevertheless, they’re going to have a hard time finding vendors for a second year and unless this show gets better very quickly, it’s going to vanish.
I’ll be back in November. Let’s see what happens.
I trudged back to my car in my monkey feet and bathrobe, head still in my hands. A woman yelled out “Looks like a rough night. You just getting up?”. Her companion shook his head.”Look at him. He’s not getting up. He’s STILL up!”
That’s about right for Wasteland. Late night parties. Early morning ones to – I was actually one my way out after a breakfast party in the snuggle dungeon when I was spotted. Around the corner, my friends Rhonda and Chriss were playing Choking Hazard with a young woman named Brooke. They had thrown out the rules and just kept throwing down cards until they had transformed the Cyanide and Happiness game from a comic strip into almost an animation.
Back inside, Gunga Jim handed out tiny hands before screeing I Eat Your Skin; the bottom half of the traditional bill with this years featured reunion for I Drink Your Blood. Jim’s commentary made I Eat Your Skin almost tolerable, and I realized I’d never actually seen I Drink Your Blood. It’s extremely seventies and while i knew the two movies weren’t related, I never knew HOW different they were. This was the right way to see it though, with an audience.
The cast was having fun meeting the fans, many of which had never done a conention before. This isn’t unusal. Wasteland tries to draw people that other cons overlook. While I waited in line, I helped Mink Stole (One of John Water’s troupe) figure out the camera on her phone.
Tracy the Gorilla was a big hit. Wasteland isn’t really a cosplay show, but when I put together the gorilla ghostbuster, I figured I’d be able to get away with it a couple of horror cons as well as events like ConCoction. It may be the novelty made him more popular at Wasteland. I’ve never taken as many photos with people at this show before.
It’ll be another six months before we go back (though they are starting up the movie nights this August, so yay), and it can’t come soon enough.
Last year I said it might be a while before I tried this one again. The crowds had become to much and honestly, that round trip to and from Chicago just about killed me. Still, It had been a chance to really cross a couple names off my bucket list and finally meet Simon Bamford (The last Cenobite from Hellraiser to elude me) as well as the unprecedented opportunity to chat with Andy Robinson (From both Hellraiser AND Deep Space 9). So what got me back to this show a second year in a row? First, one of my best friends had recently set up house in Chi-town, so I had a place to stay the weekend instead of doing the trip in a single day.
But more importantly, Clive Barker was coming.
Barker hasn’t done an appearance near me since I’ve been n the convention scene. He was scheduled at Horrorfind back around 2009, but both he and Ashley Lawrence cancelled for undisclosed reasons (So did Angus Scrimm for that matter, and the show shout down the next year. I’ve heard some shady things about it in the aftermath). A few years ago he was scheduled I believe for a Horrorhound (Or was it Flashback? I don’t think it was DOTD….), but that was when the heath issues took over and he cancelled a number of shows. For him to finally make a public appearance like this was definitely enough to make me brave the six and a half hour drive.
We pulled up to the convention center as the snow gently fell around us. It wasn’t a blizzard, but that white garbage sure did pile up around us fast. I know it’s November, but I don’t remember previous outings being this wintry. It’s not that big a deal, after all, DOTD has provided that wonderful overflow parking in the covered garage next door, but panels are held outside in a heated tent and you do have to walk from the hotel into the tent to get to them. It’s kind of a punch in the face, exiting the warm pool area only to be sucker punched by Jack Frost just outside the door.
Once we arrived, my friend Mike and I grabbed our prepaid wristbands and had about fifteen minuets before the doors opened. I always forget how long the admission line at this show gets and pre-registering was the best move I had made. We had enough time to nip off back to the car and grab a camera I had forgotten, then walk past the ticket line, right into the convention and straight over to Barker’s line. Even at open it was already begining to streatch out, but I looked over at Mike and told him “It will NEVER be this short again.”. I was correct. For most of the day, the queue ran around the corner and past the ticket tables.
Barker was late. The handler explained he’d just had breakfast and was making sure that his sugar was correct (Also mentioning that he was diabetic). About twenty minuets later the line began to move. Inside we were instructed “No personalizations. No photos at the table. Do not shake hands. He’ll give you a fist bump if you like.” It’s a little more than I’m used to at these things, but we rolled with it. Getting to say I fist bumped Clive Barker sounds way more fun than I shook his hand anyhow. He’s quiet. At times he almost looked bored, but mostly I was struck with how frail he looked. Far different than the interviews I had seen and more than a man in his fifties should. Inside his room, he had filled tables and walls with original artwork, books, apparel and photos. I saw a couple volumes I didn’t have and made note to look them up later when I had more money. I pointed out the hardcover of the Scarlet Gospels, noting I had been listening to the audiobook of this on the way up. Barker greeted me and my friend, signed my poster and I told him we’d see him later for a photo. He grinned with finger guns at me.
Our next task was to search out Ashley Lawrence. This was the first time I’d seen her make her way out to the midwest ina long time and she was another one I’d never met. Getting her on my Hellraiser posters would finish them (I don’t see Claire Higgens ever making it stateside). She was set up in a bad spot in one of the halls, creating a choke point in foot traffic, while at the same time somewhat concealing her (Particularly with the brighter Teriffier booth almost across from her).
Ashley is effervescent and charming, and the woman dosen’t age. She kept telling me my hat reminded her of a friend who always wears the same kind. Our photo came out bad and she teased me with a grin “Well don’t tilt you head so weird silly!”
I was pleased. We’d managed to grab both Clive and Ash before the Hellraiser panel that we now rushed off to. I was a little shocked then, when the moderator introduced Barbie Wilde, Nicholas Vance, Simon Bamford…and no one else. While it’s always fun to visit with them, we had this last year, with the addition of Dough Bradley and Andy Robinson. Perhaps it was presumptuous, but I had anticipated hearing from Clive and Ashley at this panel as well and found myself disappointed. We probably heard a couple new stories here, but at large, it felt like much of what we had seen the year previous.
Not so however, with the “Men behind the Mask” panel featuring Jason(s), Michael, and Art the Clown. Kane Hodder was in rare form at this one, wresting control from the moderator who just stared on in amused silence. We got fascinating stories in particular from Jim Winburn who has a long history as a stuntman and did falls in the original Halloween. David Thorton, a newcomer to the genre (fresh off his role as Art the Clown in “Terrifier”) was visibly delighted to be on stage with the others, laughing and sharing his experiences as a new movie monster. I’d actually waited to see this panel to kind of get to know David. I enjoyed Terrifier (and the 2013 anthology “All Hallows Eve” which no one seems to realize proceeded it) and think Art could be ne of the next horror icons, but it was the panel that made me want to meet Thorton. David is chipper and was fun to chat with. I’ve got experience and actual clown training, and it was interesting to compare our approaches to that kind of performance. As for the panel itself, “I was just so thrilled to be up there,” he told me.
We popped around the con, shopping, talking with people and playing with the monsters. Michael Myers in a Captain Kirk uniform was a BRILLIANT gag and he was delighted we got the joke.
“Guys like you are exactly who I do this for,” he exclaimed in satisfaction.
Moving on we grabbed a few more autographs and photos…but it’s not the same. I mentioned a few years ago the disturbing inflation creep I saw infiltrating Days of the Dead. It’s in full swing now. The handlers have become gatekeepers. They are in your face and you aren’t getting near the table without flashing some cash. $30 is the minimum for autographs (Many are more – and quite frankly, a lot of you B-listers don’t have any business charging that). Every table now charges extra to get a photo with a guest.That’s on top of the already high admission prices…
Guys, you’ve priced me out of the game.
I spent twice what I have in previous years, and it’s a drag. It’s almost stopped being fun. Between that and the overcrowding, unless there’s a bucket list guest (and that list is now pretty short), I think I’m done with Days of the Dead. It’s simply highly unlikely that I’ll be back.
A shame. It was fun while it lasted.
(Keep an eye on this blog. I think we’ll be doing a State of the Con pretty soon. Next years going to be different.)
I started hearing the rumblings about this con a few months ago, but I was suspicious. Facebook was vague and the website was CONSTANTLY down. So when my friend Rhonda asked me if I knew anything about it I had to reluctantly say no and mentions some concerns.
Fortunately, Travis, the promoter reached out to me to help allay my fears. The website was low bandwidth and kept getting overloaded, he explained. Dark Xmas was reviving an old con that hadn’t run in a few years. His goal was to throw a reasonably priced Horror show with decent guests in the Northern Ohio area. It was good to hear and good enough for me to feel comfortable sending buddies out there. Sadly, I wasn’t able to make it as I already had plans to be in Chicago this weekend shanghaing my best friend off to meet Clive Barker at Days of the Dead. However, not all is lost. I touched base with my friend, director Mark Mackaye who was more than willing to take some time off from editing his latest film Suburban Legends: Life on Rainbow Road, to guest blog for me and tell us all about his experiences at Dark Xmas!
It’s Christmas time again. People singing carols, drinking eggnog and hanging mistletoe. Since I’m not into Christmas I like to try and get through this time of year as quickly as possible. This time of year usually makes me cranky from all the Christmas nonsense, but this year something fell at my feet. Something I couldn’t ignore.
I first heard about Dark X-Mas completely last minute. A week prior to be exact. I fell backwards into finding out about it cause my friends (The Mummy and The Monkey) we’re guests. Woah! A horror convention going on within a half hour away! I gotta go. I arrive to a small hotel on a quiet stretch of road, thinking this place could of been featured in a Dan Bell video. Between that and the lack of promotion I was expecting the worst, however once I headed inside an instantly transported to my comfort zone and the low expectations went away. I see shirts, collectibles and horror vhs as far as the eye can see.
Within a few minutes I already dropped a ton of money, and I haven’t even gotten my autographs yet. I stop and chat with a few people along the way cause if you know me then you know I’m a talker. The first guest I meet is the sweet and lovely Felissa Rose star of Sleepaway Camp. Her laughter radiates the convention and naturally draws you to her. We bonded after about my dog and her bearded dragon both named Loki. I told her about how her character in Victor Crowley is easily my favorite in the film, which launched her into stories from the set. She signed my Camp Arawak shirt and gave me a free 8×10 along with it. Oh and did I mention she’s a hugger? (Matt here. He’s not kidding. I’ve run into Felissa a few times on the con circuit.The first time we met, before she even introduced herself to me she announced “I have to warn you, I’m a hugger!” and then proceeded to prove it. Okay, back to Mark) Felissa is one of the warmest guests I’ve ever met, and she had a smile plastered all over her face the entire time. So did I.
Second up I met Amanda Wyss, who gave Felissa a run for her money and how sweet she was. We shared stories about how a lot of her movies helped impact who I am. Then we just had a lengthy conversation on movies in general. She was really good at not making me feel like a fan but an equal. She signed my Freddy glove (The first blade to be exact cause she was Freddy’s first victim).
I walked around the con a few more times to grab any last minute stuff I didn’t see and chatted with more people on similar interests. Popped in on the Nightmare on Elm street panel, and then discovered it was time to go home. On the way back I had a sense of joy and happiness that some people get around the holidays. But this was just simply brought on by going to a forgotten hotel and talking to others about violent movies. Horror conventions have always brought me that kind of joy, and since Dark X-Mas is practically in my backyard. I’ll definitely be back next year…just hope they get the word out a bit better!
It’s very likely I’ll be skipping Days of the Dead next year, and personally I can’t wait to head down and check this con out myself. I agree with Mark, time to get the word out! A lot of friends went though and I’ve heard nothing but good things from all of them. Check out the photos from the event!